Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life after Communism

Winner of the 2012 Ethnographic Fiction Prize from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology (for the short story "Tito Trivia")

New: Teaching Guide prepared by Maryna Bazylevych

Lost in Transition tells of ordinary lives upended by the collapse of communism. Through ethnographic essays and short stories based on her experiences with Eastern Europe between 1989 and 2009, Kristen Ghodsee explains why it is that so many Eastern Europeans are nostalgic for the communist past. Ghodsee uses Bulgaria, the Eastern European nation where she has spent the most time, as a lens for exploring the broader transition from communism to democracy. She locates the growing nostalgia for the communist era in the disastrous, disorienting way that the transition was handled. The privatization process was contested and chaotic. A few well-connected foreigners and a new local class of oligarchs and criminals used the uncertainty of the transition process to take formerly state-owned assets for themselves. Ordinary people inevitably felt that they had been robbed. Many people lost their jobs just as the state social-support system disappeared. Lost in Transition portrays one of the most dramatic upheavals in modern history by describing the ways that it interrupted the rhythms of everyday lives, leaving confusion, frustration, and insecurity in its wake.


“Without having lived through it first hand, it is hard to grasp the magnitude of the change to daily life in the Eastern Bloc after the collapse of the region's Communist regimes in the late 20th century. Not only was this a time of fundamental system change in the higher echelons of government, it was also a significant juncture in the lives and prospects of ordinary people. And, contrary to Western assumptions about the inherent superiority of democracy, for many the transition has been extremely challenging. In this accessible book, ethnographer Kristen Ghodsee turns her attention to the human costs of the passing of Communism in Bulgaria.”—Hester Vaizey, Times Higher Education Supplement

“Ghodsee’s stories beautifully demonstrate how nostalgic sentiments do not mean a return to the past but are part of a coping mechanism during hard times. . . . I would highly recommend the book in various classrooms to introduce the intimate experiences of Cold War, communism, and post-communism, as well as to broaden the understanding of modern Europe, and theworld which continues the legacies of the Cold War. Courses on ethnographic methods as well as ethnographies of post-socialism will also find use in these compelling stories and experimental writings.”—Yuson Jung, Anthropological Quarterly

Lost in Transition tells stories about how the lives of ordinary people changed after the fall of the Soviet Union. The author… navigates the task of producing a balanced account of the transition from communism to capitalism with skill…. The continuation of this project will surely enrich the body of literature on the subject.”—Sahar Razavi, International Feminist Journal of Politics

“. . . Ghodsee’s book will prove insightful to those investigating the transition to democracy in Eastern Europe, as well as those reflecting on the practice of ethnography itself.”—Veronika Pehe, Slovo

“The[se] stories are short, written in a simple style, that is accessible and easy – as well as a pleasure – to read…. this book has much to offer both students and nonexperts of the region (especially in the US, which clearly is the intended market for this work). But its value goes beyond the concern with postsocialism, as the stories also throw light on one US citizen’s experiences of growing up during the Cold War…. [A] valuable contribution.”—Deema Kaneff, Anthropos

“[A] captivating collection of ethnographic essays and short stories about real people and fictional characters whose daily lives were turned upside down after the collapse of communism. . . . There is nothing careless or self-indulgent about Ghodsee’s writing. Her probing inquisitiveness, together with her astute thoughts and vivid observations, breathe life into each and every character in the book, from ketchup smugglers and flashy mobsters to shrewd entrepreneurs and irate shepherds, and bring the reader closer to everyday life after communism.”—Vasiliki P. Neofotistos, American Ethnologist

Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life after Communism should... be a staple text for undergraduate courses on East European studies, as it has the uncanny ability to infect readers with Ghodsee’s fascination, curiosity and responsibility toward the “subjects” of investigation.”—Emilian Kavalski, Balkanistica

Lost in Transition is one of the most immediate, lively, touching, and funny accounts of postsocialism and its anxieties and absurdities written so far. It is literary ethnography at its best--highly enjoyable reading that addresses a plethora of relevant and complex scholarly questions.”—Tanja Petrovic, Aspasia

"..Although this is an academic work written by a noted American scholar, it is very easy to read and is, in fact, impossible to put down, largely because it is so well-written." - Anthony Georgieff, Vagabond Magazine


Read an excerpt: Introduction: The Road to Bulgaria, 1983-1990

Read an excerpt: Tito Trivia, winner of the 2011 Ethnographic Fiction Prize from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology

Watch the book trailer

Listen to an excerpt: "Coffee"

Listen to an excerpt: "Basset Hounds in the Balkans"

"The Fall of Communism in Bulgaria," interview with Lisa Mullins

Read a full review at Vagabond.bg

1987 Article on Model United Nations conference in San Diego (from the San Diego Tribune)